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Impact of Sarasota Film Festival goes beyond movie-watching

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SARASOTA, Fla. – The highly anticipated Sarasota Film Festival is almost here.

The schedule is out, and thousands will flock to the area to watch hundreds of movies – including some of the most talked about independent films in the industry.

From films that were also a part of Sundance, to movies locally produced by high school students, the festival has it all.

But the buzz about this year's festivities go way beyond the movies.

"It feels like we've been baking a cake, this wonderful cake, for eight months and now we finally get to show it to people,” said Michael Dunaway, returning for his second year as director of programming.

Dunaway says that during the 10 days of the event, some 300 films will be shown. Among them – some that have already sparked a lot of buzz.

"Probably our movie that's gotten the most attention, other than opening night at the Van Wezel, is Kate Plays Christine, which is of course about the Christine Chubbuck tragedy,” Dunaway said. “It's also a movie that played at Sundance and is now playing here in Sarasota."

The documentary is about an actress preparing to play the part of 29-year-old Sarasota newscaster Christine Chubbuck, who committed suicide during a live broadcast back in 1974. The film gets input from some of Chubbuck's former coworkers.

And while many of this year's films have local ties, Festival President Mark Famiglio says the impact of the movies go way beyond what's on the screen.

"Generally speaking, we see about 50,000 people during the various events during the festival,” he said. “So we know that we have an economic impact two ways – the actual dollars that are being spent locally by people coming from out of the area into the area, and we do know we have a lot of local community engagement."

In addition, Famiglio says the success of the event has helped to solidify the area's reputation as the "cultural coast."

"We have so much going on here, and certainly the world is now recognizing that. Hopefully we can control it in a way that can attract the kind of spending and dollars that are going to benefit the community."

Opening night is April 1st, and the festival runs through the 10th.

If you want more information on the films playing at this year's festival, you can go to SarasotaFilmFestival.com to access an interactive film guide.